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The Travels of Reverend Olafur EgilssonThe Travels of Reverend Olafur Egilsson

The Story of the Barbary Corsair Raid on Iceland in 1627

Karl Smari Hreinsson and Adam Nichols


Book published by Catholic University of America Press


In the summer of 1627, Barbary corsairs raided Iceland, killing dozens of people and abducting close to four hundred to sell into slavery in Algiers. Among those taken was the Lutheran minister Reverend Olafur Egilsson.

Reverend Olafur (born in the same year as William Shakespeare and Galileo Galilei) wrote The Travels to chronicle his experiences both as a captive and as a traveler across Europe (he journeyed alone from Algiers to Copenhagen in an attempt to raise funds to ransom the Icelandic captives that remained behind). He was a keen observer, and the narrative is filled with a wealth of detail―social, political, economic, religious―about both the Maghreb and Europe. It is also a moving story on the human level: we witness a man enduring great personal tragedy and struggling to reconcile such calamity with his understanding of God.

The Travels is the first-ever English translation of the Icelandic text. Until now, the corsair raid on Iceland has remained largely unknown in the English speaking world.

To give a clearer sense of the extraordinary events connected with that raid, this edition of The Travels includes not only Reverend Olafur's first-person narrative but also a collection of contemporary letters describing both the events of the raid itself and the conditions under which the enslaved Icelanders lived. The book has Appendices containing background information on the cities of Algiers and Salé in the seventeenth century, on Iceland in the seventeenth century, on the manuscripts accessed for the translation, and on the book's early modern European context.

The combination of Reverend Olafur's narrative, the letters, and the material in the Appendices provides a first-hand, in-depth view of early seventeenth-century Europe and the Maghreb equaled by few other works dealing with the period. We are pleased to offer it to the wider audience that an English edition allows.

Karl Smari Hreinsson is a freelance writer and documentary film maker.

Adam Nichols is associate professor of English at the University of Maryland.





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